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FARMINGTON – The first time Michael Billie saw an encaustic painting, it was at a gallery in Albuquerque, and the Navajo artist from Farmington had little idea what to make of it.

“It drew me in, but I only saw it by accident,” he said. “I didn’t even know what it meant.”

That was close to 10 years ago, and since then, Billie has gone on to excel in the relatively obscure medium that employs heated beeswax and colored pigments. The ancient technique traces its roots to the Egyptians, but other materials frequently are added to the work by contemporary artists, making their work multi-media in nature.

That’s certainly the case with Billie, who is fond of using horse hair in his encaustic work. The artist will talk about the process he employs in a gallery talk Friday, April 1 at the Identity Inc. Community Center, where an exhibition of his work will be on display throughout April.

Billie’s show includes approximately 15 pieces and is mostly older work, aside from one piece he created for the “People’s Choice – A Unique Art Exhibit” that continues at several venues downtown through April 8.

Billie said once he became intrigued with encaustic painting, he learned as much as he could about it, mostly through YouTube and also by taking a couple of workshops. But he said it’s an obscure area of specialization that is barely addressed by most colleges and art schools.

He does his best to introduce other artists to the medium by periodically offering his own workshops. For most of his students, encaustic painting turns out to be nothing more than a curiosity, something they will try once and put aside once their attention is diverted. But every once in a while, he said, he sees it strike a chord with someone the way it did with him.

“I enjoy it when the students are into it,” he said. “It’s exciting to see them exploring. But it’s also very exhausting, because you’re usually herding four to 10 people. You have to be on your toes constantly.”

It’s also a style that hasn’t developed much of following locally, Billie said, explaining that most of those who collect Native art in the area favor traditional styles. Nevertheless, he persists, and his work has found an appreciative audience in other parts of the state — in Albuquerque and in Santa Fe, especially, where the Encaustic Art Institute is located — and across the nation.

He said he plans to continue to push the boundaries of the local visual art scene.

“It’s nice to see something new and different once in a while that’s not the norm,” he said.

Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.

If you go

What: Gallery talk by artist Michael Billie

When: 6 p.m. Friday, April 1

Where: Identity Inc. Community Center, 218 W. Main St. in Farmington

For more information: Call 505-486-3985

 

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